• hbjacques

It's time to speak up for our Asian-American neighbors

A petite and lively woman, eager to learn, Lin Huang joined our English language conversation group at the Stoneham Public Library. That was several years ago, and now she takes the train each day to Boston to work.

Lin Huang's (not her real name) first language is Mandarin, and, as anyone from China can tell you, crossing the lingual divide into English is no easy task.

Since we first met her, we have become friends with her and her family, often sitting down together over dumplings and vegetables and tea. We also meet to walk and update each other about our children, or discuss current events.

Last week, while riding the commuter train home, a passenger gave her the finger. Another time, a well-dressed woman verbally accosted her, yelling and using profanity. They did this because she looks what she is, Chinese.

Since the start of the corona virus pandemic, discrimination against Asian Americans has dramatically increased. A Globe story reported on several incidents where doctors and nurses in Boston were threatened or verbally abused.

Over the last year a national coalition documented more than 3,000 assaults against Asian Americans. They include spitting, shoving and stabbing.

In San Francisco an 84-year-old man from Thailand was knocked to the ground. He fell into a coma and never awoke.

In New York City, an 89-year-old woman was attacked by two men who slapped her and set her clothes on fire.

Also in New York, a 61-year-old Filipino-American riding the subway was slashed with a box cutter across the face, requiring 100 stitches.

Fed by recent xenophobic statements--”the Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu”--prejudice against Asian Americans has long been with us.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Hell’s Canyon Massacre of 1887, the Immigration Act of 1921, California’s anti-miscegnation laws, the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, the brutal beating of a Chinese immigrant in Boston’s Chinatown in 1985--it’s part of our history.

In more recent times, however, Asian Americans have been cast as the “model minority.” Seen as quiet and non-threatening, they have been resented for their achievements in education and professions. At the same time they are sometimes pitted against their Black and Latinx neighbors.

“To be Asian American is to be stuck in between,” said Tom, 28, a Somerville public relations associate quoted in a March 4 Boston Globe column by Jeneé Osterheldt.

“I often feel like I am not American enough to be American,” he continued. “People readily assume I don’t speak English. I was an Eagle Scout whose grandfather fought in the Korean War for the United States.”

For many Asian Americans, the verbal and physical abuse directed their way connects them to other people of color. Seen in that light, the fight against racism must include a fight for their safety and dignity as well.

For our friend, and the many other Asians of all backgrounds who live, study and work among us, verbal or physical abuse leaves lasting scars. Such abuse is an injury to us all.

It’s time to speak up.

--Ben Jacques, Stoneham

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